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‘On the Money Magazine’ teaches young adults financial literacy, offers professional experience

Creative director Andrew Johnson (left), journalist Dominique Shields (middle), and illustrator Najee Person (right) are members of On the Money Magazine's core team.
Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Dominique Shields said she already had a basic knowledge of how to manage her money thanks largely to her mother, who was her “handbook” growing up. But Shields came to realize that she may have been uniquely lucky to have had that handbook.

“When I first started working here, I didn’t really realize that so many of my peers didn’t have that fundamental information about finances,” Shields said.

Enter "On the Money Magazine Saint Louis," a magazine for young adults dually focused on spreading financial literacy and providing its writers, artists, and photographers with professional publication experience. Shields is a journalist for “On the Money” and part of its core team of permanent members; she, illustrator Najee Person, and creative director Andrew Johnson joined “St. Louis on the Air” to talk about the program’s mission and upcoming growth.

This summer, “On the Money” took the form of a ten-week intensive program in financial mentorship and professional development. Ten students from the St. Louis area, including Person and Shields, were directed to the program by initiatives like STL Youth Jobs and MERS Goodwill. They were quickly immersed in the worlds of finance and financial journalism.

Community partners gave participants lessons in financial education, focusing on practical tips on frequent saving and regulated spending. But much of the program’s teaching actually happened as students researched, wrote, and constructed website and magazine content.

“We have core standards we want to meet—we want to make sure that all of our articles are financially-related, that they’re relatable to young adults, and that they get some financial message across,” Johnson said. “But within that, I think we try to have a work environment where we’re open to all ideas.”

The ten-week summer program was a new step for “On the Money,” Johnson explained. The original magazine, located in Chicago, is made through an after-school, internship-style program. The magazine’s expansion to St. Louis and into the summer was made possible by the People’s Community Action Corporation, as well as many other community partners—and it’s out to find more.

In the fall, “On the Money” will expand its program, offering 10-12 high school students the same experience in professional development and financial education that Person and Shields, now permanent members of the team, enjoyed in the summer. A print copy of the magazine will be distributed to St. Louis high schools, along with a plug for students to join the team.

Financial literacy should be just as fundamental to education as math, science, reading, and writing, Johnson said—and like those subjects, it should be started early. Students may receive “piecemeal” lessons in financial planning or personal budgeting in high school and college, but for many young adults, that crucial world knowledge is simply missing.

That’s particularly true for young adults from low-income communities, Johnson said.

Shields noted that she’s still learned new things from her time at On the Money—the importance of saving more, of thinking about long-term financial goals, and about the complicated inner workings of banking institutions.

“I think everybody could use a little help in managing their money,” said Person. He proposed that financial literacy is really just a series of mental tasks—being aware, keeping focus, and planning ahead. He cited simple tips he’s learned as a member of “On the Money:” designating money for certain bills, tasks, or treats; being careful not to overspend; and saving towards specific goals.

“On the Money” frequently sends its young journalists into the metro area to interview St. Louisans about their financial habits, and the magazine’s website is stuffed with tips for affordable and local shopping, profiles of successful entrepreneurs and reviews of financial services and technology.

Students this summer blogged in several different areas: positive celebrity finance, do-it-yourself savings tips, affordable traveling and shopping, and entrepreneurship. When the program restarts this fall, Johnson said, it will also include an investigative journalism section.

“In a given day, we may do an analysis of a J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar song; we may offer advice on how to build a home studio on a budget for young musicians out there; we’ll interview organizations like the St. Louis Scholarship Foundation; or we’ll write an investigative piece about school closures in St. Louis, all coming back to that core piece of finance, entrepreneurship, and education.”

Shields said she’s excited to stay at “On the Money” until she can pursue a degree in journalism. “It’s the most creative, free space I’ve ever had—to just do what I want to do, and come up with things on my own.”

Her piece of financial advice? “It’s very, very important to plan ahead when it comes to money, because you never know what could happen.”

Person had a similar takeaway: “Life is very unexpected,” he said, “so it’s always good to be ready,”

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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